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Allergies or the common cold? Know the difference

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

What's ailing you?

You notice your child sneezing, coughing or suffering from a runny nose. So, is it allergies or a common cold? That's tough to say; many of the symptoms overlap. Knowing the difference, however, is important so you can treat your child -- or yourself -- properly.

What's ailing you?

According to, "Most adults are likely to have a common cold two to four times a year. Children, especially preschoolers, may have a common cold as many as six to 10 times annually."

One surefire way to determine whether you or your child is suffering from a common cold or allergies is to note the duration of symptoms. A common cold should subside within a week or two, but certain allergies can be persistent if not properly treated.

Common cold symptoms

Here are some definitive characteristics of a common cold as determined by the Mayo Clinic:

A common cold can be defined as a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract -- your nose and throat. Any of more than 200 viruses can cause a common cold, however, so symptoms can vary. Generally, they include a few of the following:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Low-grade fever (up to 102F, or 39C)
  • Mild fatigue

Should you see a doctor?

It is important to note that a common cold is generally not associated with a high-grade fever or exhaustion. suggests that adults seek medical attention if they suffer from: 

  • Fever of 102F (39C) or higher
  • High fever accompanied by achiness and fatigue
  • Fever with sweating, chills and a cough with colored phlegm
  • Significantly swollen glands
  • Severe sinus pain

Because children are more susceptible to becoming sicker than adults from the common cold, they should see a doctor immediately if they suffer from the following: 

  • Fever of 103F (39.5C) or higher, with chills or sweating
  • Fever that lasts more than three days
  • Vomiting or abdominal pain
  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Severe headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent crying
  • Ear pain
  • Persistent cough

About allergies

Allergies typically are related to something environmental such as pollen, molds, pet dander, food, medicine or insect stings. If you notice some of the above symptoms after coming in contact with a foreign substance, you probably have allergies rather than a common cold.

Seek a doctor's counsel to determine whether you have allergies and, if so, the factors to which you are allergic. She'll typically perform a skin or blood test with a variety of substances to determine what is triggering your allergic reaction.


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